Spurred on by Thalian and Teshes recommendations and reassured by Elric's comment that it is posible to play on the US servers from Europe I installed DDO yesterday and spent two hours playing my noob wizard "Autwind Horogood" on the Thelanis server. In that time I got through the training instance and two beginner instances on set in a crypt and one in a store room. Fully accepting that this not even Ed Zitron could do a reasonable review after so short a play time I nevertheless want to capture my first first impressions (all good by the way).
1. The download and install were surprisingly painless. The whole thing took less than two hours for the high res client. Even minor patches to Lotro have taken longer than that.
2. No obvious discrimination against Europeans. I didn't have to falsify my address. The starter town seemed quite busy at 12:00 GMT. There was no obvious lag in the busiest areas of the town. I have only played solo missions so far but since everything is instanced I am hopeful that lag won't be a factor there either.
3. The tutorial is quite minimal. It just about sufficed for myself who has played previous mmos and who has also played a fair amount of Neverwinter Nights. You can find out quite a lot about the game by poking around talking to NPCS and asking other players but I suspect a complete beginner would struggle.
4. I love the relatively short instanced missions. I expect there may be longer missions available later but the couple of short simple missions I have done were great.
5. There is no locking on to a target! You have to aim your blows and your spells. I think this is great and greatly adds to the fun of combat. When my wizard, low on health and running out of mana was set upon by a giant rat who could eat him in one bite I survived by running around in circles whacking it with my staff while I stayed out of reach of its jaws.
6. Health and Mana do not automatically regenerate between fights. Unless you can find a recuperation shrine you must carefully guard both to see you through to the end of the mission. Although I haven't checked I imagine you can probably buy recovery potions in the item shop. Why bother?
7. The two beginner missions were more challenging and more enjoyable than I expected. My level 1 wizard could certainly not have auto-attacked his way through them.
8. I choose a Wizard because it is my favourite NWN class, weak at first but becoming very powerful. DDO's implementation is a little bit different to NWN. I was limited to preparing only three spells but I could cast each of them multiple times (in NWN you can only cast each prepared spell once). However I had a limited non replenishing mana pool so I was still very limited in the total number of spells I could cast. There doesn't seem to be an equivalent of NWN's resting between fights to reset spells (which always felt a bit of a cheat) - mana can only be recuperated at a shrine and these are few and far between. I was pleasantly surprised to find quite a few spells in my level 1 spell book even though I can only equip three at a time. This includes several old familiars like magic missile and mage armour. I found a wizard trainer but he refuses to teach me anything more until I have levelled up a bit. I note that other class trainers seem equally happy to talk to me so I guess that multi-classing is supported.
9. There is a lot of things I still don't know about the game (I haven't even gotten to Stormwind yet). I don't know how the item shop or premium mode works. I haven't experienced combat in a group. I noticed there are NPC hirelings you can add to your party but I haven't enough gold for one yet. I don't know how levelling works (my progress bar filled up but instead of getting to level 2, I went to level 1 rank 2). Stats and ability modifiers seem to follow the AD&D standard and combat seems to be based on the D20 rule. (Aside: I still think that the AD&D rule-set has passed its sell by date - in this day of computers it is time to move on from multi-sided dice).
10. Perhaps my strongest first impression of the game was that it reminded me of Guild Wars: A limited shared world with with instanced missions, complex combat, complex and varied skill selection and even the availability of NPC hirelings. In that light the transition to free to play makes perfect sense. This just doesn't feel like a €15 per month live in the virtual reality subscription game. It feels like a dip in and out for a quick mission game.
Remember all of the above is based on a very limited play time so please excuse any errors (better still let me know so I can correct them).